Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Rich, Poor Church

In these days of the widespread promotion of megachurches, Christians can easily lose sight of what Scripture says on the topic. On today's Thanksgiving holiday, it is good to be thankful to the Lord for all things, even when we are poor and small. David wrote in the Psalms, "I am small and despised: yet do not I forget thy precepts." (Ps. 119:141) Matthew Henry commenting on this verse, noted that David was "a man after God's own heart, one whom the King of kings did delight to honor, and yet small and despised in his own account and in the account of many others. David poor and yet pious, would not throw off his religion, though it exposed him to contempt, for he knew that was designed to try his constancy."

“I know your… poverty but you are rich” (Rev. 2:9)

The church of Smyrna was poor by all human measurements. They were probably a small church with not many members. Financially, they were also not prosperous like the church of Laodicea. No doubt others had mocked them because they were not big and thriving like some churches, or like the Jewish synagogue in town. Certainly, in comparison to the massive temples to the heathen gods, this group of persecuted believers seemed totally insignificant.

Maybe your church is like the church of Smyrna – small, financially weak and lacking many of the facilities, staff and budgets of some other churches. Maybe there is just a handful of believers meeting in a home but seeking to be obedient to the Lord and His Word.

I know exactly how it feels to be part of a small church. I know the embarrassment (not that we have need to be) when someone asks how big our church is and then proceeds to tell you that they are part of a church of several thousand. I know the look that implies that there is something wrong with you and your church. The raised eyebrows that seem to question whether you are part of a sect or a cult and even the direct statement that indicates that there has to be something wrong for your church to be so small. I know how it feels to see the wonderful facilities and technology of bigger churches not to mention the staff running around doing all sorts of wonderful projects. I also know how it feels not to be able to tackle various ministry projects because there just is no money for more than just the basics.

Yes, sometimes we feel we must be doing something wrong and, surely the Lord should bless if we are in His will. There are many questions and struggles that flood the minds of those who are part of a small church. Then, of course, the Devil is always ready to sow doubt, fear and accusation, and often he uses other Christians to do his dirty work.

Maybe you feel this way about yourself – that you are not prosperous and seem to just make it from one week to the next. I have heard many Christians say they are tired of struggling financially, spiritually and emotionally. No wonder the empty promises of the prosperity deceivers sound so attractive to so many. Off course we all want to be the head and not the tail. Off course we all want to be people of influence and none of us want to have to count the pennies to survive.

BUT Jesus says of the church in Smyrna that they are rich, even though they are poor in human terms! Now I have to immediately add that this does not mean that all poor people are rich in God’s eyes. Financial poverty or numerical weakness is no guarantee of spiritual prosperity just as there may be a few (people and churches) that are financially prosperous and who are spiritually blessed as well. The Lord says of the church that He knows their works and that their works prove their richness. The point is that we cannot count God’s blessing in money, numbers, health or size because God’s standards are very different to man’s standards. What we need is people and churches that are rich in God’s eyes, even though they may be poor from man’s perspective.

Of the seven churches the Lord addresses in Revelation only two do not receive any rebuke or correction and it was the two weakest ones in human terms. In only one of the seven cities represented by those seven churches did the Christian witness survive through to the 21st century – the city of Smyrna (modern Izmir).

Yes, they were poor, persecuted, and many of them were killed for the Faith, but the Lord was pleased with them because they had discovered the true riches laid up in heaven. In this respect they continued the brave tradition of the saints from the Old Testament who “were tortured . . . had trial of mockings and scourgings . . . chains and imprisonment . . . (who) were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented . . . .” (Hebrews 11:35-37)

It is hard not to listen to, and be affected by what people say, but we need to learn to be concerned with the Master’s opinion only. We all want approval, but man’s approval is almost certainly a sign that we do not have the Lord’s approval. “. . . We have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. . . not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts . . . Nor did we seek glory from men” (1 Thessalonians 2:4-6).

We would not be human if we did not look for some outward sign of God’s blessing and approval. We all wish that fire would come down from heaven, consume the sacrifice and vindicate us before all the scoffers and false prophets. But the reality is that we may die without seeing any outward manifestation of God’s blessing. But, again, we are not alone. It says of the heroes of the Old Testament that “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them (and) embraced them” (Hebrews 11:13).

So, take courage and say with Paul: “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (1Corinthians 12:10). There is just one condition: It has to be “for Christ’s sake.” If we are small, weak, poor, mocked and persecuted because we are walking in obedience to Him and His Word, then we can rejoice. “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters” (1Peter 4:15). If we are financially embarrassed because we have lived wasteful lives or have not worked diligently, then we are suffering the natural consequences of our own slothfulness. So, lets work for the Master with all our might and if He chooses to confirm our labors with blessings and fruit in this life, then that is good, but if He chooses to reward us only on That Day then let us.

“Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7,8)

[The devotional above was prepared by Pastor Anton Bosch. Recently Pastor Bosch spoke at a Discernment Ministries conference in Naugatauk, Connecticut. Tapes of his speeches are available at]